Michael and I watched Hotel Transylvania last night. I’d been seeing it off and on since it came out on DVD in various tester screens in the stores, and what I saw looked interesting and funny.
I was right. It’s a lighthearted, cute and at times hilarious movie, and for a while I wondered why it hadn’t reached greater heights, like Shrek and Finding Nemo.
Once I started to think critically about it, it was easy to pinpoint the troubles, and they are very, very relevant to storytelling and pacing. Here are the three big reasons that I think Hotel Transylvania, despite being a really great film to watch to detox off of the intensity of Game of Thrones, didn’t do as well as it could have.
#3 Wonky Pacing.
The story is adorable and we get the jist of the set up very quick. Dracula has a little girl and he adores her. Except, the set up is long. Like, the opening of the movie is probably 5 to 10 minutes of Dracula adorably doting on his little girl, singing her songs, playing with her, teaching her to fly… but like I said, the jist is super simple. They could have cut that set up in half, easy.
Slow wind ups do not an engrossing movie make. We need to be dumped in to stories, akin to a child jumping on a slide. Do you think it’s a good slide if you push off and then stop start your way down to the bottom? Um, no, you want a fast, smooth ride which gets your heart pounding immediately. (I miss being short enough that playground slides are still the best thing ever.)
This applies to your stories as well. Make sure the intro gives only the information needed, and nothing more, and then, as they say, get to the monkey.
#2 Who and what is this story about?
Finding Nemo did a great job of balancing between its characters. We’d have Dad and Dori, then Nemo and the Fishtank. It was easy to focus on the main characters. Hotel Transylvania did a little wandering about it’s main characters. See, for most of the movie I thought it was all about Dracula. But by the end of the movie, it was more about his daughter and the love interest, and how they ‘zing’ed. It had a little bit of a wandering eye. Some scenes would just be about Dracula’s difficulty in letting his daughter grow up, some about the daughter experiencing love, and some wouldn’t have much to do with either of those themes.
I know it’s fun to put extra goodies in your work, and yeah, I’m totally guilty of it too. But the fact is, to get a streamlined and fabulous book, you need to choose a character or two and stick with them. Game of Thrones happens to choose about 20 characters, but you are not G.R.R. Martin and neither am I. Valeria has 1 main perspective. Pandora’s Ring has 2. Sleight of Spirit has 4 (with about 5x the word count, though). Keep an eye on it.
#1 Filler, Filler, Filler
Ok, I get it. It was really funny for Dracula and Frankenstein, and daddy Werewolf to just jaw off for ten minutes. I enjoyed it, I really did. But at the same time, the story HALTED so that these characters could get off a ton of inside jokes. The movie was only 90 minutes, so I understand why they did a bit of padding, but I think that they could have done a lot more for the plot by just kissing the jokes, introducing us to the one’s we’d need to know, and then getting on with it.
In our stories, I know those characters like to bounce off each other and have a ton of fun. If I let my characters go, they get silly, they get melencholy, and I get great stuff out of that, BUT your story probably isn’t there just to be a time passer. That’s how the book gets put down. You have to hit fast, hit hard, and then keep hitting. I know, I know, the books you read in literature class had a lot more time to beat around bushes and dinner parties, but the average reader isn’t looking for that these days. So make sure you look at every scene, at every sentence, and ask yourself is this moving the plot forward?
What movie did you guys love, but felt like it just didn’t live up to it’s own potential?